Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

upadesha sAhasrI part 9

Self Is Absolutely Subtle, Totally Pervasive


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Read Part 8 of the series...

Sankara quotes scriptures profusely to establish point

Sankaracharya continues his analysis of the nature of the Self (Atma) or the Sakshi (Witness Consciousness) (which is non-different from Brahman) in the 9th chapter also, which is titled sukshmatavyapita prakarana (Atma’s subtleness and pervasiveness) following the first word in the first verse.  This is again a short chapter with nine verses.

The main ideas presented in this chapter relate to (i) the subtleness and pervasion (sukshmatvam and vyapitvam) of the Self; (ii) the Self being without a second (ekatvam); (iii) the Self being free from attachment or relationship (asangatvam) and (iv) the absolute reality (satyatvam) of the Self and, therefore, only the non-dual nature (advaitatvam) of the Self.  The first three have already been highlighted in the eighth chapter but still the author finds it necessary to repeat them in this chapter as well.  As the subject matter is very subtle and difficult to comprehend and also because of our natural or habitual identification with the body-mind complex, this repetition does not amount to what is known in our literary tradition as punarukti dosha (the defect of repetition).

Totally Subtle, Pervasive

To establish that the Self (Atma) (Sakshi) is absolutely subtle and totally pervasive (niratishiya sukshmatvam

and vyapitvam) our scriptures (particularly the Kathopanishad, the Taittiriya Upanishad and the Gita) use the principle of innermost or proximate entity. 

Thus, sense objects, sense organs, mind and intellect are revealed in the ascending order of subtlety, leaving the Self as ultimately subtle and pervasive.  The panchakosa viveka is another method used by the Upanishads travelling through annamaya kosa, pranamaya kosa, manomaya kosa, vijnanamaya kosa and anandamaya kosa.  Sankaracharya, however, uses a different method in this chapter to arrive at the same conclusion.

Karya-Karana Parampara

Relying on the Sruti declaration that Brahman is the ultimate material cause, he employs the method known as karya-karana parampara (cause effect chain) made up of the five elements (pancha bhutani), comprising earth (prithvi), water (apaha), fire (agni), air (vayu), and space (akasa), where each succeeding one is more subtle and pervasive than the preceding one.  As Brahman is the final causeless cause (moolakaranam), it has to be necessarily the subtlest and most pervasive.  This is what is pointed out in the first verse.  The author uses the expression, pratyagatma in the verse underlying the oneness of the Self with Brahman.

In order to eliminate any misconception of a plurality of Sakshi or Atma (identical with Brahman) (based on countless physical bodies), the author makes in Verse 2  the point that as the physical bodies are made up of only the five elements, they also stand negated by the principle of karyatvam (being effects) and, therefore, pervaded by Atma.  This ensures the non-duality of the Sakshi

The author restates in Verse 3 the idea hinted at in Verse 2 that the Self, being of the nature of Pure Consciousness, is without a second.  The example of space (akasa) before the origination of the creation of other elements being the only available entity is given to support this conclusion. 

It follows from the example that prior to emergence of space, I, the ultimate cause, alone was there without a second.  Even after the creation, I continue to remain without a second but only appear to be endowed with all the attributes of the pluralistic world. 

In the fourth verse the author reveals that the Sakshi is non-dual (Advaitam), pure (suddham) and free from attachment (asanga).  It is pointed out that I, the non-dual Sakshi, alone am present in all the bodies right from that of Brahma down to a non-moving being, just as the space alone is available in all kinds of containers and outside as well.  Thus, all bodies are my bodies.

Sakshi Has No Attachment

A further point is being made that the Sakshi is pure and free from any attachment.  Just as the thread is not affected by the quality of the individual flowers in a garland, I, the Sakshi, remain unattached and free from any blemishes, such as  raga/dvesha (likes/dislikes), which only belong to the mind and cannot affect me in any way.  In this vision that I alone am present in all the bodies, I become Isvara when I choose to operate and transact in the world (vyavahara).  I abide in my Brahman status when I withdraw from the worldly vyavahara

Verse 5 also deals with the asangatvam (freedom from attachment) of the Sakshi.  We find from the scriptures that Brahman or Atma is asanga (unattached) because (i) It is absolutely subtle (niratasiya sukshmam) and as even space which is relatively subtle is unattached, there can be no question of Brahman developing any relationship (sambandha) (ii) It is free from attributes (nirguna), whereas relationship is possible only for an entity with attributes (saguna) and (iii) It is of a higher order of reality (paramartika satyam) and cannot, therefore, have any association with the pluralistic world, which is of a lower order of reality (vyavaharika satyam) as relationship is possible only between entities of the same order of reality. 

It is pointed out in this verse that only ignorant people consider Sakshi, who is the lord or controller of the ultimate cause and is residing in all beings, as tainted with defects, such as raga/dvesha which really are the attributes of mind.  This is illustrated by the example of the colourless sky being perceived as blue. 

Verse 6 is a commentary on Verse 4 where it is stated that all the bodies in the creation belong to me, the Sakshi.  It is explained in this verse that as all the bodies which are inert by themselves are illumined only by the Consciousness which the Sakshi is endowed with, all the bodies belong to me, the Sakshi who am all knowing and free from attributes such as  sin and virtue.

Absolute Reality

Satyatvam (absolute reality) and non-dual nature (Advaitam) of the Sakshi are brought out in the seventh verse.  The author divides the entire creation into three parts (i) objects (vishaya) (jneyam) (ii) objective knowledge (vishaya jnanam) (vritti jnanam) and (iii) Pure Consciousness (suddha chaitanyam) (svarupa jnanam) (nirvishaya jnanam).  The author points out that of these three, the first two are unreal (mithya) and only the third is real (satyam).

  The objects in the creation are obviously unreal as they enjoy only a temporary and borrowed existence.  As the objects are unreal, knowledge of these objects also has to be necessarily unreal as knowledge arises only when intellect cognises the objects. 

However, Pure Consciousness (objectless awareness) is real as it enjoys permanent existence illumining objective knowledge and ignorance all the time.  Sankaracharya uses the example of dream object and dream knowledge (both of which are negated on waking up) to prove the unreality of objects and objective knowledge in the waking state as well.  Pure Consciousness is eternal and objectless.  As thus the Self of the nature of Pure Consciousness is the only reality, the non-duality of the Sakshi is also established.

Eternal Awareness

The idea set forth in Verse 7 is being presented again in the eighth verse in a different form.  The author provides scriptural support in the form of a mantra from the Brihadaranyakopanishad  (4.3.23) which states that the objectless awareness (nirvishaya jnanam) is eternal by using the example of deep sleep, where the Consciousness alone is present (proved by subse-quent recollection of having had a good sleep on waking up).  Thus, Consciousness is always present illumining the objective knowledge in jagrat and svapna avastas and being the objectless awareness in deep sleep.  The verse also points out that objective knowledge in jagrat avasta is only a superimposition (adhyasa born of ignorance) and that, therefore, the objects perceived are also unreal.

A possible objection to what is set out in Verses 7 and 8 is being answered in the final  verse (Verse 9).  The objection is based on two statements, one from Chandogya Upanishad (7.24.1) and the other from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.4.5).  The Chandogya mantra defines Brahman as where one sees nothing else and knows nothing else (other than Atma).  This can create a doubt that Atma is an object of knowledge, thus implying mithyatvam of Atma. 

Similarly, the Brihadaranyaka mantra says Atma has to be known, reflected and meditated upon, giving room for a view that Atma is an object of knowledge presenting an identical problem.  The author refutes both these objections in the ninth verse by saying that, as Atma or Brahman is free from attributes (nirguna), it is not available for cognition by any of the sense organs or the mind.  The Vedantic view is that Atma, being self-evident, does not need to be known and the scriptures also do not seek to reveal Atma.  What the scriptures do is only to remove the misconception centered around the real nature of Atma and give the correct vision.

Read Part 10 of the series...

Compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda in Chennai.



Page last updated: 19-May-2013